Wealdstone were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup at Hornchurch on Saturday in a controversial but ultimately self inflicted and humiliating defeat.
Although there were some very reasonable concerns when the draw was originally made for this crucial 3rd Qualifying Round tie against the Ryman League leaders few, if any, could have foreseen the disaster for Stones that would unfold in suburban Essex.
After a very decent start Wealdstone collapsed after a hugely controversial ‘offside’ goal was scored by the Urchin’s Stefan Payne on 10 minutes and with concentration gone a second goal was conceded within two minutes. But worse was to follow when skipper Sean Cronin was shown a straight red for a foul on a cunning Leigh Bremner who appeared to embroider the situation in an incident that wont do anything for the reputation of the game or the Cup.
This was Wealdstone’s biggest reverse since the AFC Wimbledon hammering of February 2008 but made all the more damaging because Stones will now miss out on potentially lucrative Cup progression for another year. But it was the manner of this shocking debacle that will concern Wealdstone’s Management team far more.
In a website message to stunned Stones fans, well over 200 of whom travelled to Bridge Avenue on Saturday, an emotional Manager Gordon Bartlett said: ‘I can’t remember the last time we were hit for six and although it hurts, it’s behind us and we must now look for a response. Full credit to Hornchurch who came at us with 3 up front and 3 at the back and we found ourselves 2 down and down to 10 men. In the first 15 minutes. They were bigger, stronger and quicker but the sending off killed us and Sean (Cronin) knows he was in the wrong and gave us a mountain to climb.’
A hugely difficult scenario was compounded within minutes of the second half whistle when James Hammond clumsily conceded a penalty and it was goodnight Vienna with the fourth qualifying round handed to a gleeful opposition who could not believe their luck against a side who should have beaten them hands down at the same ground in September.
Stones lost their discipline and their shape, albeit forced, and shipped three more goals with the excellent and free running Payne grabbing a hat –trick.
The away side did rally towards the end of the tie with substitute Jerome Okimo netting a deserved header – his first for the club. But by then it was all too Glen Little too late.
Things may just have turned out differently had the out of form Scott McGleish buried a sitter when Stones had briefly improved towards the end of a hugely frustrating first period, but the experienced striker screwed his short well wide with the goal gaping.
And yet in all this ignominy there were still some bright spots – notably the performance of new signing Tom Hamblin who was strong and unfazed throughout.
So Stones move on and will put this nightmarish debacle behind them but lessons about how to deal with big strong, bullying, sides need to learnt and very fast because those, rightly or wrongly, seem to be the qualities that win promotion from the Ryman Premier.
Wealdstone: North, Hammond, Siva, Hamblin, Cronin, Brooks, Little, Bailey, McGleish, Moore, Pett. Subs used: Dean, Okimo, Wright. N/u: Hutchinson, Haxhia (GK)
Attendance: 506 (220 Wealdstone)